By Michael McMullan
FORMER Monaghan star Tommy Freeman hopes the Farney County’s underage conveyor belt can keep topping up a senior squad that were on the cusp of next Sunday’s All-Ireland senior final.
In an interview for this week’s Gaelic Life, Freeman expressed his pride in the county and stresses how the players would have little interest in moral victories. The feeling was of a missed opportunity to play in the showpiece game of the year.
Freeman, an All-Star in 2007, recalls how Kerry edged them out by a single point in the All-Ireland quarter-final on the way to lifting Sam that year. It’s a disappointment that has lingered in his shadow since and he makes comparisons with their defeat to Dublin on Saturday.
In both games, the winners were able to call on All-Ireland medal winners coming off the bench in the latter stages.
Freeman was full of praise for the Monaghan squad and their efforts, with a special mention for the experienced heads who come back year after year to deliver stellar performances.
Below the senior squad, the indicators point to the makings of a bright future. Monaghan minors qualified for the Ulster and All-Ireland finals this year and the county had a team in the u-20 decider in recent years.
“You need to be finding two, three of four players from those teams to keep the conveyor belt going to beef the (senior) squad up,” Freeman said of a long-term plan to help the consistently challenge for an All-Ireland senior title. He uses Dublin as a comparison.
“What was going on and coming off, the players were as good as each other with All-Ireland medals in their back pockets,” Freeman said of the Dubs’ depth.
“When Dessie Farrell is looking up into the Hogan Stand and seeing players that are equally as good sitting there, it makes a management team’s job that bit easier.
“Not only does it beef it (the panel) up, but it pushes other players on that are on the team and has them looking over their shoulder and upping their game to keep their place on the team.”
Freeman also hails the bravery of former teammate Vinny Corey for stepping into the Monaghan senior manager post, a role few were queuing up for.
“I know Vinny very well, we are very close friends,” Freeman said. “Vinny Corey wears his heart on his sleeve.
“When he was on the pitch, he gave everything. There were no shortcuts and everything was done the right way. If there was something out of place, he’d be letting anybody know.
“He blooded a lot of young players and some of them have six or eight games under their belt. Going back to the old format, you might need two or three years to blood those players. He has done an awful lot in a short space of time for Monaghan football.”
After Kerry, Monaghan are the longest serving team in Division One, something Freeman said is a “nice statistic to have”.
Many on the outside often ask if there is anything “in the water” in Monaghan, referring to how they maintain such high standards despite rubbing shoulders with counties with considerably more players and clubs to choose from.
“It comes down to dedication, hard work and buying into systems that are put in place, doing the right work off the field and the best you can on the field,” Freeman said of the Farney mantra.
“On any given day, any manager, over any team, they just ask players to give of their best so you can look at your teammate to the right and left of you after the game.
“If it’s good enough (to win), then well and good. If not, as long as we gave everything we had.”